Search This Blog

Sunday, October 19, 2014


One of the great quotes from '70's horror cinema: "To know death, Otto...You have to fuck life through the gall bladder!"

When the Italian-French FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN hit screens in the United States as ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN, it garnered attention for it's in-your-face sex and gore (all rendered in 3D) and X-rating, so it naturally piqued the curiosity of us horror kids at the time. It was well before the days of cable porn channels and the ready availability of porno flicks on home video but we children of the post-hippie-era 1970's heard all manner of what went on in films bearing that ominous "X," so just what in god's name would an X-rated Frankenstein movie be like? Even at that early point in my development, I had already seen a number of the Hammer Frankenstein films and absorbed their feel and visual language, plus to say nothing of Universal's genre-defining entries, so I could not wrap my head around how anyone could couple the blasphemy of an obsessed mad scientist's single-minded quest to craft life from the cobbled-together elements of sundry cadavers with the sweaty, explicit bedroom gymnastics of tenderloin cinema. Finding out for myself at the tender age of nine was simply not going to happen, so ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN would have to be one of the forbidden movies I'd have to wait a decade or more to finally witness, and when that event took place what I got was not at all what I expected.

The ever-awesome Udo Kier as Baron Frankenstein.

The film's story is pretty much a catalogue of Frankenstein movie tropes, especially those set up in Hammer's Frankenstein cycle, only with a good number of psycho-sexual kinks thrown in for good measure, and gore on a level far more plentiful and explicit than anything found in Hammer's output. It revolves around the efforts of Baron Frankenstein (my man Udo Kier) to build and animate a pair of Serbian "zombies" that will mate and breed a new race of ethnically-perfect specimens, thanks to the perception that the supposedly ethnically-pure Serbians are the European stock most closely connected to the glory of the ancient Greeks. Frankenstein himself is a privileged and corrupt aristocrat, married to his own sister, Katrin (Monique van Vooren), and their union is wholly devoid of love and passion, with him ignoring her (and their children) in favor of time spent hard at work on his experiments in the lab with his assistant, Otto (Arno Juerging). Life in their castle is a study in opulent stagnation and twistedness wrought by too much freedom and power, and it finds a direct counter-point in the earthy life led by the local peasantry, most prominently represented by the strapping stableboy, Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro). Nicholas comes to the Baroness's attention thanks to his dalliances with the local girls and soon finds himself called by her to the castle for some "special services" but before that task begins, Nicholas seeks to enlighten his friend Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic) to the ways of female flesh before the rather asexual fellow throws his life away as a monk. During a trip to a low-rent brothel, it becomes very clear that sex just does not move Sacha, which is unfortunate because the Baron and Otto, out hunting for a head with the perfect nose for the in-progress male zombie, mistake him for the virile Nicholas and ambush the two friends as they make their way home, with Otto knocking Nicholas unconscious while the Baron lops off Sacha's head with a huge pair of shears.

The theft of Sacha's head.

With the final component for his zombie obtained, Frankenstein's experiment nears completion but, as this is a Frankenstein movie, things do not go as planned and nothing ends well for anyone involved...

That all sounds pretty grim, right? Well, while it falls in line with the playbook of the Frankenstein sub-genre, what I did not expect when I finally saw the film after just over a decade of anticipation was that it's a jet-black, played-straight comedy. In fact, it's played so straight that a viewer could be forgiven for not noticing that the movie is a genre lampoon with its twistedness and gore very intentionally cranked up to a ridiculous degree. Udo Kier's performance as the Baron is a delight as he chews the scenery like a man possessed, hamming it up while performing unspeakable acts and delivering the most ludicrous of dialogue. Kier's Baron is clearly mad but his insanity makes his Hammer counterpart (played by the indelible Peter Cushing) seem like an exemplar of stability, restraint, and good taste. This Baron takes an obvious sexual pleasure from his unholy experiments, a pleasure he does not find within his cold marriage, and even crosses the line into outright necrophilia while working on his female zombie, an act that yielded the immortal quote found at the opening of this review. Any way you cut it, Kier is very much in on the grim joke and he totally runs with it.

(cue Alice Cooper's "I Love the Dead")

Studly Joe Dallesandro milks his masculine beauty to great effect here as Nicholas, playing the role with a sense of jaded boredom that stands out among all of the mad histrionics going on around him. It should also be noted that his performance is especially funny due to him incongruously looking and sounding like a male hustler straight out of NYC's Port Authority in the early 1970's. Exactly what this guy is doing among all of the naturally-accented Europeans in the cast is anyone's guess, but it's a welcome and looney contrast.

Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) and the Baroness (Monique van Vooren).

While the film's decidedly un-wholesome sexual content must have been quite shocking when encountered four decades ago, what really must have earned the movie its X-rating was its generous helpings of fountaining blood and lovingly-displayed eviscerated organs, presented up-close and in 3D. Wiggling viscera is dangled over the camera or thrust at the audience to an absurd and intentionally gratuitous degree — an effect lost on home video, though the depth of field makes the intent quite clear — and I'd bet good money that the excesses found here would later be mined as one of the sources of inspiration for SCTV's series of Dr. Tongue 3D movie lampoons. And yet, despite its quantity of both arterial spewage and butcher slaughterhouse surplus, the infamous gore content is so over the top that it amuses rather than offends(though it is undeniably gross). If not for the warped view of sexuality on display, I'd recommend the film as a yucky gross-out festival that horror-loving kids would greatly enjoy, but even with that fleshy aspect out of the equation it still may be a good deal more than most responsible parents or guardians would allow the wee ones to absorb.

Just one example of the movie's voyeuristic festishizing of wounds and gore.

Though I freely admit to being a bit put off by the film's tone after ages of having built it up in my head as possibly the final word on abattoir cinema when I first saw it, watching it again — in its uncut Criterion Edition version — for this annual horror overview finds me enjoying it even more and appreciating the joy of watching Udo Kier's full-tilt take on one of the genre's archetypal characters. If you've never seen FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, do yourself the favor and give it a look while bearing in mind that it beat Mel Brooks's YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, which is considered by most to be the definitive man-made-monster movie parody, to the punch by a year. Too bad FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN's adult approach precluded it from being seen by most of the moviegoing public during its initial run, otherwise YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, genius work though it is, might have been seen as a tepid and quaint also-ran when the two were compared.

Poster for the original theatrical release, which would appear to owe a debt of inspiration to...

Or am I reading too much into this?

No comments: